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Marco Benevento & Moon Hooch played Bowery Ballroom twice (night 2 pics)

After six shows with Joe Russo’s Almost Dead at Brooklyn Bowl, keyboardist Marco Benevento is out on his own, performing from New York to Florida through the end of October. Launching the tour at the Bowery Ballroom with two shows (October 18 and 19), Marco was joined by long-time drummer Andy Borger and now-regular bassist Karina Rykman. Sharing the bill was another high-energy trio, the twin saxophones and drums of Moon Hooch, known to many New Yorkers from their years busking in the city’s subways.

It was Moon Hooch’s turn to open on the second night at the Bowery, taking the stage with sax man Mike Wilbur shirtless and drummer James Muschler stripped down to his skivvies. Wilbur traded brassy licks with Wenzl McGowen, pumping out danceable punk-jazz riffs that had the crowd shimmying from the very first notes. The boys have a close relationship with their fans, who have been with them since the band’s days, not that long ago, when they were a fixture at Brooklyn’s Bedford Avenue subway station until being barred by local police due to the crowds clogging the platform. The groove at the Bowery was so infectious that late in the show two young women jumped on stage to dance but were discouraged by the band to avoid what could have become a scene.

Marco Benevento is also known for his energetic performances, and despite having a tough act to follow, his buoyancy and million-dollar smile immediately lit up the room. In contrast to Moon Hooch, it was Marco who leaped from the stage to dance with fans. He’s a master musician, augmenting his sound with a wide range of pedals and electronic enhancements, and has become increasingly comfortable as a vocalist. Opening with his “Story of Fred Short” medley, Marco and his mates worked their way through a series of pop-infused rhythms, with each member taking turns in the spotlight. Borger is rock-solid on drums — he’s been a regular with Norah Jones for years and just completed a tour with K.D. Lang — while Rykman, a recent NYU graduate, is emerging as a home-grown Tal Wilkenfeld.

No Marco Benevento show would be complete without a leap from atop his piano. The anticipation was building throughout “Limbs of a Pine” as Marco stood on his bench before stepping onto the piano and teasing the crowd with a one-legged balancing act. Coiling into a squat while still singing, he gathered himself prior to launch, vaulting into the air and landing safely on the stage. Even if you’ve seen it before — and the height of the Bowery Ballroom’s ceiling didn’t allow for maximum air — it’s still an impressive feat. Marco’s former bassist and current JRAD partner, Dave Dreiwitz, whose full-time gig with Ween made it impossible for him to continue with Marco, joined the band for a series of encores, including his own composition, “The Enabler” (“bass line stolen from Pink Floyd,” Dreiwitz confessed).

Marco Benevento and Moon Hooch will continue their tour down the East Coast, with dates in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Richmond, Charlottesville, Asheville and Charleston. Moon Hooch is heading off to Europe in November, while Marco is scheduled to perform in Portsmouth and Bridgeport before his New Year’s Eve show in Kingston, New York.

photos and review by Lou Montesano

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